Friday, March 27, 2015

Child Circumcision: Culture-based ignorance, fetish, and pseudoscience

I have recently been motivated to go back and finish a blog post I had started, entitled The Foreskin: Why is it such a secret in North America? [I'm glad I did -- it went viral!]
` In it, I describe my shock at age 20 when I was told of the existence of the foreskin, a piece of anatomy I had never before encountered, neither in the flesh nor depicted in any anatomy book I'd seen.
` (This is bizarre, considering that it's more well-developed in human beings than in other species.) What was it for, I wondered, and why had it been so thoroughly erased from U.S. culture?

That post goes into great detail on all that, including the brutal history of how circumcision became a 'medicalized' ritual in white, Christian, sexually suppressive late-nineteenth century America:
` It had the 'medical' goal of desensitizing the penis in order to discourage masturbation and other ejaculations outside of intercourse (a "disorder" called spermatorrhea).
` Thanks to a few cultural quirks of the early and mid-twentieth century, tearing off the perfectly good foreskins of screaming newborns became 'medicalized' practice a few other countries, although it has since been rejected in most of them as essentially a form of genital mutilation.

Strangest of all, widespread infant circumcision has continued in the U.S. for so long that there are still doctors who are ignorant of the fact that boys' foreskins don't typically separate from the glans for the first several years of life.
` That's right; possessing a perfectly average penis is not necessarily enough to stop a boy from being diagnosed with congenital phimosis, another "disorder" from late-1800s America.
` In order to "correct" it, the doctor may recommend tearing the foreskin back (a.k.a. premature forced retraction) several times a day. After much screaming, bleeding, and other complications such as infections, the ultimate "fix" may be circumcision:
` The problem is then blamed on the foreskin and not the doctor's ignorance, thus continuing the cycle of social surgery. (I'll get back to this.)

Such an outrageous level of incompetence can happen in a medical setting because in American culture -- including medical texts -- you will tend to find misconceptions about this piece of anatomy, if anything at all.
` Like any science/skeptically-oriented blogger, I packed as much information as possible into my intense account of discovery. [I have received much acclaim from not only skeptically oriented people, but some of the hundreds of thousands of others who have seen it!]

Having gotten most of the technical details out of the way, I can start a second post on this subject which includes material that wouldn't fit in the first one:
` It starts out with content from biased U.S. anatomy books and an educational video which essentially shows what was left out of them. Next, I explore some of the real and fictitious pro-circumcision "researchers":
` One of them is into circumfetish, has written an erotic novel dealing with circumcision, and even sold chastity belts for boys on a website promoting parents' control of boys' sexuality by a tight circumcision and devices to keep him from masturbating.

I can't make this stuff up.

Neither can I make up my bizarre encounter with the crazy Born-Again Christian lady, nor all the comments from Facebook which demonstrate the influence of culture on people's opinions of the matter.
` In fact, Facebook was the first place I posted this educational video about the functions of the foreskin, produced by Gavin Sisk, MFA at University of Washington Health Sciences Academic Services and Faculties, along with George C Denniston MD.

This kind of content is found in medical textbooks outside the U.S., and includes the sexual and protective functions of the male prepuce (foreskin), as well as the development of male and female prepuces.
` My aforementioned blog article covers this topic in detail, although this video is a much better visual reference, and even features pictures of dead baby and embryo genitalia. Bonus!
` It's definitely Not Safe For Work, but at the same time, anything but erotic. You may want to check it out now, or later -- it's 20 minutes of skin and info.

Important to my discussion here, the video shows a microscope image of the membrane that fuses a young child's foreskin and glans, much like the membrane that fuses your fingernail to your finger.
` Incredibly, there really are doctors who circumcise infants and claim that the foreskin of children isn't fused and that this membrane doesn't exist!

Yes, really -- and I've got evidence of this, but first, some other points from the video:

The infant foreskin usually protrudes beyond the urethra, only able to retract enough to allow urination. Sometimes, this moveable, protective bit of foreskin is "diagnosed" as redundant prepuce and cut off.
` Gradually, the membrane holding the foreskin in place dissolves, which generally happens by adolescence. When it is able to retract fully, the foreskin is ready to be used as a spring-loaded sexual organ.

As my article explicitly describes in great detail, a man's foreskin allows his penis to roll inside-out against itself, and to do many things a circumcised penis cannot do.
` In the video, there are also microscope images of the clusters of fine-touch nerve endings in the foreskin's ridges. Indeed, the foreskin contains more than a third of the nerve endings in the entire penis, and makes up about half the skin that covers it.

The video also lists many long-term effects of circumcision, such as desensitizing the penis, immobilizing the moving parts, and callusing the glans. If a man wants to do this to himself, informed consent is important!
` As for ripping off a clueless newborn's foreskin, the tearing of his most sensitive erogenous zone causes his heart rate and stress hormones skyrocket: Many boys scream long enough to turn slightly blue, while some go into shock and become quiet.
` This early trauma causes prolonged irritability, diminishes attentiveness, hinders parental bonding, as well as disrupts breastfeeding, REM sleep and sleep/wake cycles.
` It creates permanent neurological changes in pain perception, and can even create emotional problems later on. And that's not even counting the physical effects and other possible complications, which I of course covered in my article.

Helpfully, this video lists some other body parts that were once deemed redundant or defective -- the adenoids, mastoids, tonsils and appendix. In fact, my own mother and her brother were made to have their tonsils removed as kids, for no medical reason at all:
` Before tonsils' function was understood, this was believed to be beneficial, but today a tonsilectomy is only recommended in extreme cases of infection or other problems. Generally speaking, the same can be said of any other part of the body, and it is no different for the part we are focusing on here.
` I've noticed that unlike the other items on the 'once deemed defective' list, the foreskin is external and has obvious functions, which were documented by Renaissance Era anatomists.
` This knowledge was only lost, mainly in U.S. culture, in the past 150 years. With the help of modern science and media, it is returning in greater detail than ever. Unfortunately, it's not happening fast enough:

I've just found a short video where a doctor claims that the foreskins of infants are not fused to the glans. What's more, she's apparently been circumcising infants for 25 years -- and she didn't know that 'probing' the foreskin is like ripping off a fingernail!
` Her name is Claudia Fruin, and the video was taken outside of an American Academy of Pediatrics conference by protesters of child circumcision.
` She makes her unbelievable statement just after the 2:50 mark, then implies that the protesters don't know what they're talking about because they've never circumcised an infant. Really.
` Then, the protesters discuss the doctor's scramble to solve her cognitive dissonance. To avoid embedded video and picture overload in this post, here's the link: Circumciser Tries and Fails To Defend Violating Children.

Just think: Throughout human history, people generally have known not to retract the foreskin before it's ready. That knowledge has only become obscured for so many millions of people in recent times.
` That there are doctors who actually do this in a large, industrialized nation, well into the twenty-first century, is a testament to the vastness of human ignorance. Also, greed, as the amputation and selling of foreskins is a billion and a half dollar per-year industry:
` This can only happen because infant circumcision is about the most common surgery in the U.S., and it's almost always performed without therapeutic indications, or much (if any) anesthesia.
` If the decision had simply been left up to the individual himself to decide whether to be circumcised, as it is with women, it would be a fairly rare occurrence, as it is in most parts of the world.

Anatomy Book Errors and Biases

So, how can people become so ignorant of a piece of external anatomy with a clear purpose? For reasons I explained in my article, it was made rare in the wake of WWII, when almost every infant in the U.S. was circumcised.
` With no frame of reference, even the guys themselves who were circumcised were unlikely to ever learn the truth about what was done to them. This extends to anatomy books, which are still often seen to leave out the foreskin or contain inaccurate information or illustrations.
` For example, although the foreskin typically pulls back from the glans during an erection, there are anatomy text illustrations showing the foreskin covering the glans during an erection as though it is an immobile structure.
` This, as I explained in my article, is a common misconception, leading to myths that the foreskin impedes sexual function and cleanliness. It's only possible for people to believe this when they don't have contradictory evidence from the real thing!

Just to take some random examples, I happen to know someone who has a variety of anatomy books, so I decided to take pictures of their partly-dissected male naughty bits.
` I managed to find most of these books, and have posted photos from them, obviously for education about anatomy books rather than genitalia. (Plus, they enlarge readily when clicked upon!)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Skeptical Fallout from "Secular Heresy"

Who here disagrees with the following statements?:

Just because someone can kill you for disobedience does not mean that their authority over you is somehow "valid": Does the mugger have authority over you because he's got a gun and wants your wallet? What if he donates the money to a school? Does that make it okay to steal from you?
` Just because someone has been coerced into doing something, it doesn't mean that anyone has had the "right" to coerce them. It simply means that they were coerced. Is that simple to understand?

A relevant example of the logical fallacy called Argument from Force would be: "We're right because we will revoke your privileges if you disagree." Another one is, "Our god's laws apply to you because we force everyone to comply."
` A different logical fallacy, called Argument from Consequences, goes, "I know that Santa Claus has been here because there's presents under the tree." Or, in keeping with my theme here, "we have already punished people for breaking our rule; therefore this rule applies to you."
` Note: The morality of these actions is another issue, which is why punishment for violence or theft (mala in se) is a different matter than punishment for drug possession or parking violation (mala prohibita).

That was essentially my point in a previous article Anatomy of a Secular Heresy. In it, I argued that laws cannot apply, period, because governmental authority is not based on facts and evidence. Instead, it is based on violent coercion, the opinions of dead lawyers, and propaganda.
` Rather than voluntary reciprocity and win-win outcomes, the violence at its core creates an abusive relationship between the government and the governed.

When so-called government authorities are asked for evidence that laws apply to people living on the land, they don't even attempt to provide any. Instead, they either stay silent, issue threats, or spew logical fallacies, distortions, and platitudes on par with such famed shysters as Duane Gish, the young earth creationist for which the Gish Gallop is named.
` Marc Stevens, which I mentioned in my article, has won this kind of debate in front of courts, because no one could provide evidence that the law applies to him. The burden of proof is on the lawyers, judges, etc. to provide evidence that the laws apply -- and even they fail at this.

Rules are a good thing, in my book -- the problem is that people are initiating force in the name of the state, an assumption that's not valid. The state is an abstraction that does not correspond to anything that exists outside of people's imaginations and beliefs -- it is fictional. Even if it did exist, that would not in itself be evidence that laws apply.
` Acting as though it is real does not make it real any more than acting as though gods exist mean that they do exist, much less have authority over people's lives. And so, just saying that laws apply to people because they believe in it, or because they live within the imaginary borders of a fictitious state, is not evidence that the laws apply.

Atheists of course understand that one cannot break the laws of a deity (fictional entity) if that deity does not exist. They also understand that if nutball church leaders, Scientologists, ISIS, etc. turn on them for heresy, that does not in any way validate any presumed religious authority.
` Besides Antarctica, there is no land one can escape to in order to avoid people with guns imposing laws upon them. So, it isn't a matter of 'just move somewhere else' -- it can't be done, unless you can somehow support yourself in a frozen wasteland.

My point was that the world's governmental "authorities" have no evidence to back up their position of power. Because of this, they must use the initiation of force and beguiling legalese to confuse dissenters. Therefore, the relationship between the rulers and the ruled is based on abuse and parasitism, not evidence, much less respect or cooperation.
` I did not propose a solution to this problem, other than to mention that it is possible to use private companies for emergency services and to build roads, schools, etc., without coercing people to pay for them. After all, who builds the roads? People do.
` Saying that the state builds roads is like saying that God builds churches. The difference is where the money comes from: At the point of a gun, or a voluntary agreement?

For the purposes of my argument, however, it is not important whether it is possible to be governed voluntarily, based on agreement rather than coercion. My argument was that government authority is grounded in abuse rather than evidence, and it is invalid because it is unproven by those who assert its validity.
` Importantly, there is no possible way to vote for someone who can end this abuse, since by definition, the system is based on it. You can only vote for rulers who aren't as abusive as the ones before, rather than voting for leaders who will end this abuse altogether.

I suppose I should have made these points more explicit before inviting Skeptic-type people to try to poke holes in my reasoning via Facebook. I can at least say Luc Vande CasteeleVince Lynch and Robert von Schryvers 'liked' my article on Facebook, and others told me they agreed with it.
` I posted this article on Facebook in order to get feedback, but was not prepared for the sheer amount of logical fallacies which came with it. I found it to be quite instructive as far as what distortions to address before inviting people to critique the argument. Here are the comments in all their glory, plus additional commentary from me:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anatomy of a Secular Heresy

This post started as an email to a prominent skeptic about the most shocking heresy in all of skepticdom. Though I never got a response, I am nevertheless eager to plaster it all over my blog.

Back in the days of Borders Books, I remember finding a book there on critical thinking and scanning the introduction. It concerned posing a simple question about the separation of church and state to an online forum of college students; should the words "under God" be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?
` If you didn't already know, the original pledge was written in 1892, and these two words were added in 1954 in order to distinguish the U.S. from the godless commie countries (along with the slogan 'In God We Trust' on U.S. currency).
` Even so, many of the students responded with something along the lines of, "No, because we should honor what our founding fathers wanted." Thus it was revealed that these students had evidently never thought to ask who wrote the pledge or when.

Over the years, I've heard the "under God" discussion ad nauseum in Skeptic and atheist media, but it had never even occurred to me to ask why children were supposed to recite the pledge in the first place.
` To me, it was just "something that you do in school," something that seemed so inconsequential that it never occurred to me to think of how this practice got started. Of course, the first place I would look for information on this particular topic is... Wikipedia:
The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8 issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism in students and sell flags to public schools.[7] According to author Margarette S. Miller this was in line with Upham's vision which he "would often say to his wife: 'Mary, if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.'"[8]
This may seem innocuous at a glance, but first, imagine a flock of birds flying over the border between two countries. For a moment, you naively think to yourself, "I wonder if they know that they are flying into a different country," and then you realize that these birds are not in any countries.

There are no countries, only areas of land. I should note here that the belief that the state is real is an example of the Reification Fallacy. One of the most important things I've ever learned is that the map is not the territory -- we eat the food, not the menu.

And now that I can see that the state is just an abstraction, largely enforced by lying sociopaths with weapons, I can ask what is the virtue of making children essentially worship a complete fiction?
` Let's start with the fact that the government claims a monopoly on the initiation of force. In other words, they get to push people around and say who can do what, in the name of the state, and any interference with this can be legally met with violence. How has this been determined?

If there's one thing I've been learning about more over the past couple of years, it's the fact that we're all caught up in a giant fallacious belief system and are made to at least pretend to take it seriously -- or else we're heretics! Here's what I mean:

Atheists of course concede that the idea of God didn't exist until humans made it up. There are real buildings called churches, there are real people who play the role of church authority, there's a real book purported to be the law of God, but these consequences do not mean that God exists.

Similarly, the idea of states/countries didn't exist until humans made them up. There are real government buildings, real people who play the role of authority and law enforcement, there are real documents purported to be the law of the state, but these consequences do not mean that the state exists.
` Under the threat of lethal force, people pay this nonexistent entity, and are allowed to vote in the hopes that their tax money is spent in a particular way.

Most importantly, this system is based on violence, because it trains people to put you in prison for not paying taxes, and to shoot you if you try to resist. Over money. And the person who shot you doesn't get in trouble because they were 'upholding the law'.
` Of course, this also happens for people who have the wrong bit of plant material in their pockets. How can this punishment possibly be justified? I cannot help but think of how this is like the idea of God sending people to infinite burning in hell for something they did within a finite lifespan.
` When you go to court for such victimless crimes, there is of course no victim to oppose you, so instead you go up against The State. The same State that The Judge works for. If the judge works for the same fictional entity that you are going up against in court, then how can it be a fair trial?

I hope to have inspired at least a few people into considering these matters just now, before the entire can of worms is writhing on the floor: